How to choose the right nursing program

There are many factors to consider when choosing the right program. Here are my top eight


Last month we discussed if nursing was the next step in your education. For those of you who made the decision to become a nurse, let's tackle the decision of choosing the right nursing program for you.

There are many factors to consider when choosing the right program. Here are my top eight:

  1. Do you plan to work while going to school? Most EMS professionals want to continue to work while in school so the convenience of a program may be a consideration. Will you be able to arrange trade time or take your vacation time in such a way that will allow you to attend class?
  2. Are you reaching your long arm into your short pocket or do you expect to have financial aid? There are a wide variety of costs to consider. Will you go to a community college, private college, or complete a distance learning program?
  3. What is your learning preference? Do you do well with online or distance learning courses or do you perform better when you have to attend class? I completed a distance learning program and was successful, but I have had many very bright colleagues that attempted the same and did not successfully finish. Choose wisely.
  4. Will the program you attend accept your previous college credit or do you have to repeat courses because they were completed too long ago? Many nursing programs have a five or seven year limit on A&P, Microbiology, and other general education courses. This may cost you more time and money in the long run.
  5. What is your time frame? Do you need to complete the program quickly because you need to supplement your current income or can you proceed part time?
  6. You have made the decision, but is this the right time? Is this the right time in your life to take on additional education? Any nursing program will require a lot of reading and study time as well as a deliberate and persistent effort on your part to apply what you have learned.
  7. Do you have family support? Remember when you went to EMT or paramedic school? It required a lot of dedication and time. Is your family supportive and aware of the time demands and level of commitment that you will need to demonstrate? A friend of mine halted his nursing education in the middle of the program because he decided, "I would rather stay married than be nurse." He then admitted that he had not taken the time to discuss with his wife the time demands of the nursing program he chose.
  8. Are you prepared to be intellectually honest and humble? The role and knowledge base of a paramedic or nurse is not better or worse, just different. It makes sense that a nurse would not be able to function in a pre-hospital role without proper education. It is also true that a paramedic would not be able to function in an in-hospital role without proper education. As in any new educational experience, expect to discover what you don't know and be excited about learning new information. A nurse who goes to paramedic school should expect the same.

Some things to watch out for:

  • Be sure to get a complete course breakdown of costs that include books, uniforms and supplies. Don't be caught by surprise with unexpected costs. Expect to buy a lot of books. Part of evolving as a professional is developing a reference library so you can continually remediate yourself as you forget things.
  • This applies to the guys only. Before enrolling, find some male nurses that attended the program you are considering and ask them if they felt any gender bias was present. It's sad that I have to mention it, but I continue to hear stories from male colleagues nationwide about how nursing faculty was "anti-paramedic" or let them know that "males don't belong in nursing."
  • What is the program's reputation in the classroom and at clinical sites? Do they use state-of-the-art learning methods such as clinical simulation, computer simulation, group learning, frequent interactive learning and computerized testing?
  • What is the program's first time NCLEX pass rate? This can be found at the State's board of nursing website.

Some nontraditional programs to consider:

  • If convenience is your primary concern then a distance learning program may be the route for you. However, these can be a bit costly compared to your local community college or state university.
  • Hybrid programs offer a mix of online course work with arranged practical and clinical experience. It's a good way to "split the difference" if you really need convenience and lower educational cost.
  • Find a true bridge program. There are a few paramedic to RN bridge programs across the country. The benefit with these programs is that they have actually articulated credit hours so you receive credit for your paramedic education and experience. Therefore, the program may be accelerated, less overall credit hours, and even more cost effective.

Next month we will discuss some of my top nursing program picks and take home points as you begin your nursing education.

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